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Cablegate: Maldives: Draft International Religious

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000742

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS, SA/RA, DRL/IRF, DRL/CRA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL KIRF KSEP MV
SUBJECT: Maldives: Draft International Religious
Freedom Report for 2004

Refs: (A) Colombo-DRL 05-07-04 unclass email
- (B) State 82752

1. (U) This message is Sensitive But Unclassified --
Please handle accordingly.

2. (U) Per Ref B, Mission submits below the draft
Maldives International Religious Freedom report for
2004. A Word document with tracked changes in the final
2003 version of the Maldives report has been sent to the
Department via email (per Ref B instructions).

3. (SBU) Draft Maldives International Religious Freedom
Report for 2004:

Begin Text:

The 1997 Constitution designates the Sunni branch of
Islam as the official state religion, and the Government
interprets this provision to impose a requirement that
citizens must be Muslims. The practice of any religion
other than Islam is prohibited by law. Non-Muslim
foreigners are allowed to practice their religion if
they do so in private and do not encourage citizens to
participate. The President is the "supreme authority to
propagate the tenets of Islam." The Government observes
Shari'a (Islamic law).

There was no change in the status of respect for
religious freedom during the period covered by this
report, and freedom of religion remains severely
restricted.

Many citizens regard Islam as one of their society's
most distinctive characteristics and believe that it
promotes harmony and national identity.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues
with the Government as part of its overall policy to
promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Maldives is an archipelago consisting of
approximately 1,200 coral atolls and islands scattered
over 500 miles in the Indian Ocean southeast from India,
and its population is approximately 280,000.

It is believed that the entire indigenous population is
Muslim, the vast majority of which adhere to the Sunni
branch of Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners in the Maldives,
including more than 500,000 tourists annually
(predominantly Europeans and Japanese) and approximately
31,000 foreign workers (predominantly Pakistanis, Sri
Lankans, Indians, and Bangladeshis) are allowed to
practice their religion only in private.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

Freedom of religion is restricted significantly. The
1997 Constitution designates Islam as the official state
religion, and the Government interprets this provision
to impose a requirement that citizens be Muslims. Muslim
holidays are generally national holidays. Foreign
residents are allowed to practice their religion if they
do so privately, and cannot encourage Maldivian citizens
to participate.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In July 2000, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom stated that
no religion other than Islam would be allowed in the
country, and the Home Affairs Ministry announced special
programs to safeguard and strengthen religious unity.
The Government has established a Supreme Council of
Islamic Affairs to provide guidance on religious
matters. The Government also has set standards for
individuals who conduct Friday services at mosques to
ensure adequate theological qualifications.

The President must be a Sunni Muslim and under the
Constitution is the "supreme authority to propagate the
tenets of Islam." Cabinet ministers also are required to
be Sunni Muslims. Members of the People's Majlis
(Parliament) must be Muslim.

The Government observes Shari'a. Civil law is
subordinate to Shari'a, which is applied in situations
not covered by civil law as well as in certain acts such
as divorce and adultery. Under the country's Islamic
practice, the testimony of two women is required to
equal that of one man in matters involving Shari'a, such
as adultery, finance, and inheritance. In other cases,
the testimony of men and women are equal. Shari'a also
governs intestate inheritance, granting male heirs twice
the share of female heirs. The Constitution provides
that an accused person has the right to defend himself
"in accordance with Shari'a." The Government only
registers clubs and other private associations that do
not contravene Islamic or civil law.

The law prohibits public statements that are contrary to
Islam.

There are no places of worship for adherents of other
religions. The Government prohibits the importation of
icons and religious statues but generally permits the
importation of religious tracts, such as Bibles, for
personal use. The sale of religious items, such as
Christmas cards, is restricted to only the resort
islands patronized by foreign tourists.

The Government prohibits non-Muslim clergy and
missionaries from proselytizing and conducting public
worship services. Conversion of a Muslim to another
faith is a violation of Shari'a and may result in a loss
of the convert's citizenship.

Islamic instruction is a mandatory part of the school
curriculum, and the Government funds the salaries of
instructors of Islam.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The law limits a citizen's right to freedom of
expression in order to protect "the basic tenets of
Islam." According to Amnesty International and other
sources, in early 2002, four individuals were arrested
for distributing Islamist and anti-government
literature. On July 7, 2002, after being convicted of
the charges, three of the defendants were sentenced to
life imprisonment and the fourth was given a ten-year
sentence.

There were no reports of religious detainees or
prisoners during the period covered by this report.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion,
including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted
or illegally removed from the United States, or of the
refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the
United States.

Persecution by Terrorist Organizations

There are no known terrorist organizations, as
designated by the Secretary of State under Section 219
of the Immigration and Nationality Act, operating in the
Maldives.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Most citizens regard Islam as one of their society's
most distinctive characteristics and believe that it
promotes harmony and national identity and helps remove
any desire for different groups to break away from the
state. The President regularly encourages all
Maldivians to strengthen their religious unity.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government does not maintain a resident embassy
in the Maldives; the U.S. Ambassador in Colombo, Sri
Lanka, also is accredited to the Government in Male. The
U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with
the Government in the context of its overall dialog and
policy of promoting human rights.
Prisoner Lists and Issue Briefs

There were no reports of religious detainees or
prisoners during the period covered by this report.
End Text.

4. (U) Minimize considered.

LUNSTEAD

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